Remediating both gramophone and photography with a tape recorder
There is this moment in time when companies (after accounting computations and equation solving) release this sort of things and wonder about what sorts of added value it will have for people. The tape recorder was not primarily marketed as a music-playing device. It was meant to store memorable moments (babies), funny situations (snoring people? wet farts?), “voice letters” and the brave “sound hunting”. That's the topic Karin Bijsterveld tackle in her paper What Do I Do with My Tape Recorder …?’: sound hunting and the sounds of everyday Dutch life in the 1950s and 1960s (Historical Journal of Film, Radio and Television Vol. 24, No. 4, 2004).
Above all the use case scenario envisioned by audio-tape designers and engineers, the "sound hunting" one is the most intriguing with all these weird photos with people bringing recorder here and there. There is an inherent poetry in this will to capture the sound of the environment. This hobby held for a while and is not a bit defunct; it's surely curious though as attested by this quote from a BASF ad campaign:
"Today’s hunters no longer turn to the woods or ﬁelds, but to the noisy big cities. Instead of banging riﬂes they take their silent tape recorders with them. These modern day hunters call themselves ‘sound hunters’. Instead of hunting for deer, foxes and rabbits, they are after sounds and noises. To be sure, sound hunting is no less exciting than hunting in the green fields"
The paper reports how companies came out with this "sound hunting" hobby as a way to engage people in the usage of their product:
"Apparently the recorder’s usefulness had to be established against all odds, for tape recorder books also highlighted, and exasperatingly so, that after a short period of great enthusiasm many people no longer knew what to do with their tape recorder. (...) other publications underlined that the tape recorder, unlike the gramophone or the radio or TV set, did not produce sounds automatically, but that this quality depended on the effort and creativity of the user and that therein was the secret of the satisfaction the device could give. (...) the enthusiasts and manufacturers of tape recorders tried to link up the tape recorder fad with hobbies and leisure activities that were already familiar: photography, writing letters, amateur music-playing, learning languages, tinkering, and even cooking, painting, reading and, increasingly so, music listening. (...) It is of course a common and often successful marketing ploy to link up a new technology with old and familiar practices "
Why do I blog this? I enjoy reading material about history of sciences/techniques lately as they always give interesting ideas or case studies regarding the user experience of technologies. In the present case, the tape recorder history seems to give an interesting instance of how a "new media often incorporate elements from the practice of older media". As we can realize now, the tape recorder tried to remediate both gramophone (recording and listening to music) and photography (through "sound hunting"). While the former remediation was a success, the latter only lasted few years and is now almost forgotten.